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Lesson learned: Defense not so simple, after all

Lesson learned: Defense not so simple, after all

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Perhaps you remember some Nebraska football defensive players in August lauding a new defensive system for its simplicity, particularly relative to the previous coaching staff’s defensive system.

Junior linebacker Josh Banderas recalled last week when he said defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s defense was “like a pre-school reading book compared to what we had.”

Uh, yeah, he takes that back.

“We’ve bumped it up a couple of grades,” Banderas said, smiling.

In hindsight, Banderas and others who made similar public comments wished they’d never done so.

Did the coaching staff take offense?

Banderas smiled again.

“They didn’t say anything about it,” he said, “but they probably did.”

The defensive struggles this season for Nebraska (5-7) entering Saturday’s Foster Farms Bowl against UCLA (8-4) have been well-documented.

While the run defense made significant strides — it ranks eighth nationally at 113.4 yards per game — the issues in pass defense marred the overall product.

Nebraska was last nationally in defending the pass much of the season and currently is No. 121 at 288.2 yards per game. The Huskers are No. 75 in scoring defense (27.8 points per game) and No. 71 in total defense (401.6 yards per game).

Yeah, so much for simple.

“They started throwing some more stuff on us later in camp,” Banderas said. “The early part of camp we just kind of ran our regular defense over and over against the same offense, so it was pretty much see ball, get ball.

“I kept saying the scheme was easier, but as we got into the season, they kept adding stuff, and it obviously got harder. You start adding more blitzes, you start adding more adjustments for what teams do. It got complicated.”

Nebraska showed progress over its final three games and defenders have a “pretty good grasp” of the defense now, Banderas said.

What’s more, Nebraska, like many teams, battled injuries throughout the season, affecting its personnel groupings. For example, not until the Rutgers game Nov. 14 did Banker really start relying heavily on his dime package.

Banderas was among those hurt players, although he said he’s fully recovered from the groin pull that sidelined him four games. Junior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey also missed six games, five because of injury.

“The injuries, they hurt, but they also deepened us,” Banderas said. “We’ve got so many guys we can rotate in and keep our legs fresh, so I think we’re going to roll pretty good (against UCLA)."

Among the newcomers who impressed was linebacker Dedrick Young, who arrived in the spring. His 58 tackles are the most by a true freshman at Nebraska.

Coach Mike Riley said he foresees no roadblocks that would prevent Young, a scholar athlete, from being a really good player.

“When we first recruited him, we had no idea he would have that many more snaps than any linebacker on our team. Pretty amazing for a true freshman,” Riley said. “Different kind of guy, that guy. Smart. Very tough. Is unaffected by the scene. He just strolls in and plays football.”

Banderas was impressed by Young’s overall calmness.

“You would think he’d come in and be a little nervous or jittery,” Banderas said. “But he was calm, cool and collected throughout meetings and fall camp.”

And even though Banderas wishes he hadn’t made Banker’s defense sound so easy, he stands by his claim that it’s more conducive for a newcomer, like Young, than was the previous system.

“I think it’s pretty fair to say this is easier to learn for a freshman coming in,” Banderas said.

Going into the offseason, Banderas foresees a big jump for the defense, especially at his position, which returns everybody.

“We became tighter, because everybody knows what it’s like to be out there,” Banderas said. “We’ve all played with each other on the field, so I think we’re just tighter as a unit than we’ve ever been before, and we’re all coming back. Nobody’s leaving, so we’re going to build from there.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or brosenthal@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBR.

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